Dogs of War: Inside the U.S. Military's Canine Corps

By Maryann Mott
for National Geographic News
April 9, 2003

Since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the U.S. security forces have stepped up efforts to train and deploy explosive-detection dogs. This year about 350 canines, nearly double the regular intake, will go through a five-month long training program at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

The base is the only facility in the country that trains dogs for the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. Canines are dual certified in explosive detection and patrol, which means they will attack on command, or, to protect themselves or their handler. After training, they are posted to military installations worldwide.

Right now bomb-detection dogs are being used by coalition forces in the Iraq war. Details, though, on how many canine teams are in the Middle East, and what kind of work they are doing, are secret because of security concerns, according to U.S. Central Command, in Doha, Qatar.

Major Frank W. Schaddelee, commander of the 341st Training Squadron, which procures and trains all military working dogs, said explosive detection dogs are not used in direct combat situations. Instead, they may be used at "points of entry" or for "VIP sweeps," where buildings and cars are searched for bombs before dignitaries arrive.

On average, these four-footed soldiers are 98 percent accurate in their detection abilities, he said, and depending on the task and climate, can work up to 12 hours a day.

Belgian Malinois (pronounced MAL-in-wah) and German shepherds are used because they are intense, intelligent, and known for their ability to work hard. At first glance, a Malinois might be mistaken for a shepherd. Both breeds are the same size and have similar coat coloring and markings.

Peace of Mind

The majority of these medium sized dogs are bought from European breeders. About four times a year military personnel travel overseas and look at hundreds of animals, ranging in age from 12 to 36 months. About one third of the dogs viewed are purchased. Each dog costs U.S. $3,100, said Schaddelee, but once trained, they are worth about $11,000.

He's quick to point out, though, that their value is much greater.

"I don't think you can put a real price on their heads because of the peace of mind that they give the troops with their capability of detection/deterrence," he said.

During the hundred-day training program at Lackland, the dogs are worked five days a week, using a repetition and reward system. As a reward, they are given a ball or rubber chew toy.

"It all turns into a great big game for the dog," said Technical Sergeant Curtis Henthorn.

Continued on Next Page >>


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